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News 04 Aug 16

Kosovo Govt Backs Border Deal with Montenegro

Kosovo's government has adopted the controversial draft law on border demarcation with Montenegro, but the law will not come into force until two-thirds of MPs back it in parliament.

Arben Qirezi, Dia Morina
Isa Mustafa, Kosovo PM. | Photo by Republic of Kosovo Office of the Prime Minister/Wikimedia

The Kosovo government has finally adopted the draft law on border demarcation with Montenegro, following a debate in the Kosovo Assembly on Wednesday.

For the legislation to come into force, parliament now has ratify the document with a two-thirds majority, however.

The government adopted the legislation amid continued opposition protests against the deal, which they say deprives Kosovo of 8,000 hectares of land.

Dozen supporters of the opposition Vetevendosje party gathered in front parliament to try to stop MPs from voting on the deal. However, they went away after realizing that parliament would not vote on the law that day.

Dardan Sejdiu, vice-president of Vetevendosje, who was among the protesters, said they were not against demarcation as such. “We are [just] against giving away our land to Montenegro. Demarcation can be done with an experts’ commission that works on behalf of Kosovo,” he said.

The deal has also drawn criticism from some members of ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, and from the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK.

The agreement between Kosovo and Montenegro was signed on August 15, 2015, three years after the first meeting in Podgorica between the two state commissions in November 2012.

The border is a mountainous region, up to around 2,000 metres above sea level, and local shepherds from western Kosovo have traditionally used its fertile pastures in summer.

Between September 2015 and March 2016, two opposition parties, Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK - which was the first party to question the deal - and Vetёvendosje, virtually paralyzed the work of the Assembly, throwing teargas to interrupt sessions and taking to the streets.

The ferment has caused the biggest political crisis in Kosovo since it declared independence in February 2008.

The AAK, whose power-base in western Kosovo is directly affected by the proposed deal, accuses the state commission and government of ignoring their objections.

The day before government approved the law, Hashim Thaci, the President, Isa Mustafa, the Prime Minister and the whole diplomatic corps attended the debate in parliament.

Thaci said no real problem over demarcation existed, and that, following the debate, the government would approve the draft law.

Mustafa also supported the work of the state commission, insisting that demarcation has to proceed. “The work of the commission was right and therefore we signed the agreement,” Mustafa said.

The debate was addressed also by US ambassador in Pristina, Greg Delawie, who accused opponents of demarcation of stirring up xenophobia and nationalism, but added that it is up to MPs to ratify the law when the government forwards it to them for adoption.

“The US will stay beside the people of Kosovo regardless whether demarcation is passed or not,” Delawie said. However, he added:“Approving demarcation is good for Kosovo and for the region.”

The heads of the ruling parties in parliament all signalled support for demarcation. The LDK’s Ismet Beqiri, said: “The majority of LDK assembly members support the demarcation deal.”

The opposition Vetvendosje, AAK, and NISMA parties remain vehemently opposed, however.

Shpejtim Bulliqi, one of the opponents of the deal from the LDK, and a professor of geography at the University of Pristina, headed a group of professors and experts during the debate.

Bulliqi maintains that the state commission, headed by Murat Meha, has made various errors, as a consequence of which Kosovo lost over 8,200 hectares of land.

Bulliqi said the commission had ignored the post-1945 boundary delineation, which sets Kosovo’s border with Montenegro at two mountain peaks, on the Cakor and Zljeb mountain.

According to Bulliqi’s team, parts of both Kosovo and Montenegro are not registered in cadastral records.

The state commission has insisted that the cadastral boundaries between Kosovo and Montenegro match each other and that cadastral criteria represent the most accurate demarcation line between the two countries.

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